This hospital’s generator has been broken for weeks, but the Eastern Cape health department says it doesn’t matter

Kareedouw Hospital has no backup generator during loadshedding

By Joseph Chirume

8 February 2023

The backup generator at Kareedouw Hospital has been broken for weeks. Photo: Joseph Chirume

The generator at Kareedouw Hospital in the Eastern Cape has been broken for several weeks, leaving the hospital without backup power during loadshedding. But the Eastern Cape Department of Health says this is not important.

The hospital, also known as BJ Vorster Hospital after the apartheid-era Prime Minister, serves thousands of families in the KouKamma Municipality, including people from settlements in the Tsitsikamma and Storms River areas.

Kareedouw, 120km from Gqeberha, is a small town whose economy is based on farming, forestry and tourism. The area is very hot in summer, prompting residents to fear that prolonged loadshedding coupled with the high temperatures may affect services at the hospital.

“Nurses are using cellphones to light the corridors when there’s loadshedding because the generator is not working,” said a resident who recently visited the hospital.

A businessman in the town said the generator had not been operating for more than a month.

“It seems there is a big problem because I have witnessed technicians working on it on numerous occasions. The general sentiment among residents is that the childrens’ section and life-saving medical processes could be affected if there is prolonged loadshedding,” said the businessman who asked not to be named.

Russel Rensburg of the Rural Health Advocacy Project said hospitals should all have functioning generators as backup. “It’s unacceptable that both management and provincial authorities have not addressed the situation.”

When GroundUp visited, there was no loadshedding and the lights were on. We tried to speak to the chief executive officer of the hospital but he was at a funeral. No-one else on the staff wanted to talk on the record about the generator.

The Democratic Alliance’s shadow Minister for Health Jane Cowley wrote to Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth at the end of January complaining that the generator was not working.

Crowley wrote, “The generator at the BJ Vorster Hospital in Kareedouw malfunctioned at the start of the year, endangering patients’ lives whenever loadshedding is being implemented. Three weeks have passed, but it has still not been repaired.

“Nurses are now forced to bring torches with them to work, while critical life-saving procedures must be scheduled according to the latest loadshedding schedules. How is it possible that babies are being delivered by torchlight?”

Spokesperson for the provincial department of health Yonela Dekeda confirmed that the generator was not working, but denied that nurses were using torches at the hospital.

“The backup generator at BJ Vorster hospital is currently not operational and the department has prioritised the repairs. The fault assessment has been done and the repairs are in process.

“The department has procured emergency lights in the interim to provide basic lighting during loadshedding. All our medical equipment is battery backed-up and charged during the time when there is power.”

Dekeda said: “Medical care is offered even when there is no power. BJ is a small hospital with no theatre and ICU (Intensive Care Unit). Patients that require more medical care are normally referred to Humansdorp hospital. The fact that the generator is not working has no bearing for patients’ care.”

“For the kitchen services the hospital uses gas stoves. The hospital also has a mobile lamp that is battery backed up.”

Humansdorp Provincial Hospital is about 50 kilometres from Kareedouw Hospital.